Here at exaqueo, we like to conduct interviews with leaders in our field so we can gain different viewpoints in the industry. A career expert in culture, with over 30 years in hospitality including executive roles at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company and Carnival Cruise Lines, Kevin Richeson understands how the way people behave at work is the biggest driver in business success.

Recently, he sat down with exaqueo brand strategist, Emily Fritz, to share his unique perspective on culture. From the meaning of culture to why it’s important, Kevin provided valuable takeaways on this topic of company culture.


Kevin Richeson (KR): Currently, I’m with Imprint Hospitality, a hospitality management and consulting company focused on luxury lifestyle products. Prior to Imprint, I was with SH Group, which launched the lifestyle-focused 1 Hotels and ultra-luxury Baccarat Hotels.
Before SH Group, I was with Carnival Cruise Lines as the Vice President of Shipboard Human Resources, overseeing team members from 106 different countries. This was a great experience! I learned a lot about international maritime laws and compliance, and a lot about the diverse cultures of our team members. It’s amazing how a company’s culture can define a shared set of values that would bring together people from all over the world.
Before Carnival, I started my career with The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company in 1990 waiting tables part-time. I fell in love with the culture of the organization. I held several director of HR roles, a Regional VP of HR, the global VP HR operations but it was in my role as Training Manager that I discovered my passion for training and teaching people. I felt a part of an organization that truly lives its values, where every person was committed and brought those values to life with their interactions with guests and each other.

How do you define culture?

KR: Culture is the shared set of beliefs, of values, of recurring thoughts and behaviors that drive how we interact with one another and anyone who comes into our environment. It’s through that shared set of values and behaviors that we understand what’s expected of us. The way we respond to our values comes through in our behaviors. Culture is around defining 1) what are those important values, and 2) how does one behave in our organization in order to align to those values.

Cultures also have a common language. (<-- Click to tweet!)

You have to ask: ‘what is your culture’s language?’ Do you call yourselves employees, team members, colleagues, or something else? It is important that you communicate that terminology as part of your culture. Words matter.

Why does culture even matter?

KR: Culture matters—period. If you don't have the right culture, you’re not going to deliver on your guest experience. The culture drives everything: how people are treated, how people behave, how you do business. I’ve been really fortunate to have some wonderful role models and can think of two quotes right now:

J. W. “Bill” Marriott, Jr. said, “Treat your employees like your most important guest. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of your customers and your business will take care of itself.” (<-- Click to tweet!)

And Simon Cooper, the former President of The Ritz-Carlton (quoting IBM’s Lou Gerstner), “Culture isn’t just one aspect of the game — it is the game.” (<-- Click to tweet!)

Everything comes from culture. It defines your practices, policies, standard operating procedures, your interactions with one another. It is absolutely the foundation and the core of everything.

What makes a strong or weak culture?

KR: I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and working out what it takes to have a great culture, what it takes at every level of the organization and the real science behind building cultures that align with the commitment you are making to the guest. And if you’re trying to create a great guest experience, but don’t create a great employee experience, there’s a disconnect and you won’t be successful. The environment you create with the employee allows them to deliver on your brand promise. People need to feel valued. Does my uniform fit well? Is my workspace clean? Is the employee entrance welcoming? All of these touch points are important -- it creates [the employees’] experience and they are the ones who have to bring your brand/service commitment to life.

How do you create a foundational culture?

KR: It really starts with the vision that you have for the organization. What do you want to be? Where do you want to go? You think about the consumer brand, and then say “how do I align all the people to this?”

Employer brand, culture, HR is really internal PR and marketing. (<-- Click to tweet!)

We need to communicate who we are, who’s going to be a good fit for the organization and deliver on the mission. Then we need to find the right people! The way you market that message -- of who you are, what it’s like to work here -- must align with where you want to take the organization and the culture. Candidates need to understand this ahead of time. Once you [hire the right] candidates, start defining the purpose for them. Too often organizations make the mistake of selecting employees and throwing them into the pool and say swim! It’s very important to share why people are there, what is their purpose, and then focus on how to do their function.  

How do you remake or reinvent culture?

KR: You need to remind people why they are there and reinvigorate them with a sense of purpose. If you start clarifying and sharing a vision for culture, what you are going to create, people get excited about being a part of that, a part of something. We can’t help ourselves, it’s human nature. It can be as simple as sharing and defining a culture in behavioral terms and making sure those behaviors match your values. People become transformed.

At El San Juan Hotel, I saw team members that were disengaged and not performing become excited and have a real restored pride. They were apart of something bigger than their role. The renewed sense of vision helped align everything and everyone, this really helped build the hotel’s culture from the ground up. At Carnival, we launched a culture initiative for 25 ships with over 30,000 team members already sailing on the waters all over the world.

Culture already exists, whether you’ve defined it or not. (<-- Click to tweet!)

We needed to understand what that culture was currently and what team members felt what was missing from their experience. Then every ship, every team member when through orientation to get them aligned. It was reinforced in a daily newsletter, their pre-shift meetings and when they’d return to ship after time off. People responded to it incredibly well. There was an emotion, a feeling and understanding as to why we’re here and what it means to be Carnival.

How do you help leaders view culture differently?

KR: When leaders behave in a way that is out of line with the company culture, then the culture will shift to that behavior rather than what’s written on a piece of paper. Their behavior is influencing the culture.

Culture is not an HR thing, it’s a leadership thing. (<-- Click to tweet!

Culture can’t just be a bunch of words -- it has to be driven by leadership every day. That’s why it’s important to select leaders who love people. You want them to feel like they are there to serve the employees, to lift them up and better them.

What culture trends are you seeing?

KR: I believe organizations are starting to see the impact of having a multi-generational workforce. When dealing with these differences, people can make mistakes, it’ll happen. But it’s how you are able to rebound, receive feedback on that mistake -- that’s part of your culture too. The “open door” is now more open than ever with feedback from social media and surveys. If you’re receptive to feedback, there are so many avenues to receive it.

Culture is more important than ever because in a second, your brand can be damaged. (<-- Click to tweet!)

Everything is being filmed in real-time. People are recognizing the impact employees can have and the need to clarify up front what’s expected of them. If organizations aren’t recognizing this yet, they will.

If you liked this post, check out this one: Interview with Author George Anders

Related Posts